Good Night Shirt great at Far Hills

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The champ did it again – winning his fifth consecutive Grade I stakes.

FAR HILLS, N.J. – Reigning steeplechase champion Good Night Shirt made it look easy Saturday, winning his fifth consecutive Grade I stakes with a powerful tally in the $250,000 Grand National Steeplechase at the Far Hills Races.

Owned by Virginia resident Sonny Via and trained in Maryland by Jack Fisher, the winner let Red Letter Day do most of the pace work up front while settling comfortably in second. As the field headed down the backstretch, Good Night Shirt ranged alongside the leader and took command at the 13th of 14 fences. Motoring around the turn, the winner extended his lead, flew the last fence and won by 4 lengths over Be Certain with Best Attack third. Good Night Shirt covered the 2 5/8 miles in 4:54 1/5 (two-fifths of a second off the course record) over a firm turf course.

“He’s a machine and he’s getting better,” said winning jockey Willie Dowling. “He’s unbelievable, just one of those horses that can do it.  I just sit on him and he knows when we turn down the back that the pace is picking up and it’s becoming a race. Around the bend, I could feel his hind legs – they were rolling and he kept it going. Honestly, I didn’t even push him out.”

Bred in Maryland by Dr. and Mrs. Tom Bowman, the winner earned $150,000 and established a new single-season steeplechase earnings record of $395,520 with four wins in as many starts this year. Fisher called his horse much improved since his steeplechase debut in 2005.

“He was kind of a big, dumb kid and now he’s grown up,” said Fisher. “He jumped well today and in the past he was kind of like ‘oh, here’s a fence.’ Now he jumps them and that’s made him better. It didn’t look like they tested him today.”

They didn’t. Be Certain and Best Attack got closest just before the final turn but could not match the winner’s late power. The 7-year-old son of Concern handled every challenge and improved to 10-for-20 in his steeplechase career with $844,493 earned. He now stands third behind retired legends McDynamo and Lonesome Glory on the National Steeplechase Association’s lifetime earnings list. McDynamo won the Grand National five consecutive times (including 2007 over Good Night Shirt), but retired at the end of last season. The three-time Eclipse winner was honored in a pre-race ceremony Saturday.

Good Night Shirt should easily claim a second consecutive Eclipse at the end of 2008. He has won all four of his starts and distances from 2 to 3 miles and will be heavily favored to win the $150,000 Colonial Cup (Gr. I) Nov. 16 at Camden, S.C.

NOTES: Fisher won three races on the day at Far Hills and also took the International Gold Cup timber stakes in Virginia with Bubble Economy. Fisher’s other Far Hills stakes winners were Gil Johnston’s Swagger Stick ($100,000 Foxbrook novice) and Sheila Williams’ Rare Bush ($50,000 Appleton). The trainer’s horses earned more than $270,000 in purses on the day to give him more than $975,000 on the year, a new single-season record for trainers with six stops remaining on the calendar . . . Trainer Lilith Boucher earned a double at Far Hills, picking up a filly/mare stakes score with Star Ten Stable’s Class Shadow in the $50,000 Peapack and a 3-year-old stakes score with Mede Cahaba Stable’s Class Real Rock in the $50,000 Gladstone . . . In the Far Hills finale, Brigadoon Stable’s Erin Go Bragh won the $50,000 New Jersey Hunt Cup timber stakes for trainer Doug Fout . . . Far Hills once again hosted its usual strong crowd of 50,000-plus with proceeds again benefitting the Somerset Medical Center in nearby Somerville.